Wilson says he belongs in the NHL

Wilson says he belongs in the NHL
January 11, 2014, 8:00 am
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Caps win a 4-3 thriller in Tampa Bay

Dec 29, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (43) during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center.

(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

If you recall, back in September there was a great deal of debate over whether 19-year-old rookie Tom Wilson was ready to contribute at the NHL level.

There were questions over whether playing for the Capitals would enhance his growth as a player or stunt it.

After his first 43 games in the NHL, those questions still exist among fans who wonder if averaging a team-low 7:02 a game in ice time warrants burning a year off Wilson’s three-year, entry-level contract, especially when he has just one goal and three assists.

“It’s tough on him, for sure,” Capitals head coach Adam Oates said when asked about Wilson’s miniscule ice time. “We’re happy with him. We love the way he plays. It’ll come.”

[MORE: Fehr scores twice in dramatic win in Tampa]

If a bump in ice time is projected for Wilson, it’s hard to see when. With veteran right wings Alex Ovechkin [21:05], Troy Brouwer [18:38] and Joel Ward [16:35] ahead of him, Wilson has had a tough time making an impact this season.

He ranks eighth in the NHL in penalty minutes with 85, but is coming off back-to-back games where he saw just 3:46 of ice in Minnesota and 6:23 in Tampa. Wilson is averaging 10.2 shifts a game this season. Brouwer is averaging 23.6, Ovechkin is at 22, and Ward is at 21.9.

“We have a lot of right shots and a lot of great players and I’m just waiting my turn,” said Wilson, who was taken by the Caps in the first round of the 2012 draft. “Any chance I get to fill in at any point during the game I’m going to do my best and bring energy.”

Last season was a breakout year for Wilson with the Plymouth Whalers. In 48 games he racked up 23 goals and 35 assists, along with 104 penalty minutes.

Oates said he still has faith that Wilson can be a goal scorer in the NHL. He said he sees it when Wilson is used on power-play drills at practice. Wilson said he’s trying to learn as much as he can in practices, saying teammates Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Brouwer and Ward have been especially helpful.

“Every game for me is staying more confident with the puck,” Wilson said. “Having the confidence to hold onto it and make plays and learning how much time I have out there as opposed to just dumping it in.”

[RELATED: Time to trade unhappy players?]

Oates said he spoke with Wilson after the Capitals’ loss in Minnesota and explained to him that he double-shifted Ovechkin in the second period of that game because Ovechkin had sat on the bench while the Caps were busy killing penalties.

Wilson said he understands and is steadfast in the belief he is better off seeing minimal minutes in the NHL than he would averaging 25 minutes in the OHL.

“There’s nothing like being up here and going through the pace you get up here,” he said. “Even in junior if you’re playing 30 minutes they’re not as intense, where if I’m playing 7 to 12 minutes up here they are very high paced and you’re completely focused the whole time.”

Wilson is living with a billet family near the Capitals’ practice facility in Arlington and said he’s adapting to the challenges of being a first-year pro.

“In junior there’s not a worry in the world,” he said. “You’re in a billet house; they’ll make you a meal; they’ll send you with lunch on your way to school; you play hockey; you go back to your billet house and sleep.

“Here it really is my job and I need to show up and be professional every day. As a rookie I can’t take a day off . I can’t go out there and miss five passes in a row because I could be on a one-way ticket out pretty quick. I just try to show up like it’s my job every day.”